Recently Thomas Friedman reiterated his call for a gasoline tax increase. In this case, to help wean us from dependence on Middle Eastern oil and reduce the deficit. But there’s more to that case, although the chances of taking this responsible step are fading quickly.
On the federal level the gas tax has not been raised since 1993, meaning its real value has effectively declined by one-third. Bumping it up would have a range of positive effects—including energy security and carbon reduction—and would throw off much-needed revenue to fix our nation’s crumbling and outmoded transportation network.
Nevertheless, it polls horribly, which is why raising the gas tax or any purpose is a difficult proposition today. A recent survey commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation found that while Americans support and understand the benefits of infrastructure investment, 71 percent do not support increasing the gas tax to pay for it. Friedman’s recommendation to use the tax increase to pay off the deficit polls even worse (75 percent opposed) according to Reuters.
This is not to let politicians off the hook. Our nation’s economic competiveness is suffering because of our inability to invest in 21st century infrastructure. So while near-term gas tax increases are necessary on the federal and state levels just to stay afloat, we need to be thinking about a range of other options to provide additional funding for national transportation projects. Encouraging greater private investment, new national transportation bonds, and a National Infrastructure Bank all poll well. Let’s start with those.